Black Areas: Urban Kampongs and Power Relations in Post-War Singapore Historiography

By Seng, Loh Kah | SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Black Areas: Urban Kampongs and Power Relations in Post-War Singapore Historiography


Seng, Loh Kah, SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia


"[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]"--popular Chinese saying

After the September 1963 elections in Singapore, the victorious People's Action Party (PAP) government carried out a wave of deregistration of leftwing mass organizations and detentions of their leaders for alleged involvement in "communist united front activities" (Straits Times 1 November 1963). These measures effectively shattered the leftwing movement and paved the way for the government's nation-building project. Among the organizations removed were the little-studied Singapore Rural Residents' Association and the Singapore Country People's Association, which were charged with "agitation on behalf of the Communists" and operating "recruiting and training centres for Communist cadres in the rural areas" (Straits Times 4 October 1963). (2) Their dissolution left kampong dwellers increasingly unable to resist their rehousing to public housing by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) (Gamer 1972, pp. 66-82). In November 1956, two precursor associations, the Singapore Wooden House Dwellers' Association and the Singapore Farmers' Association, had been banned in a similar crackdown on the left by the Labour Front government of Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock. Why these associations were able to organize kampong dwellers, and why the state had deemed it politically necessary to proscribe them are questions this paper will address towards revising the framework of analysis for the historiography of Singapore after World War Two.

This paper also broadly examines the social and spatial dynamics of power relations between state and society in post-war Singapore. The period is typically framed around an idealist struggle involving the political elites, primarily the British colonial regime and the post-colonial PAP (Yeo 1973; Turnbull 1989; Yeo and Lau 1991; Lau 1998), and more recently, the socialist left (Wee 1999; Harper 2001; Liew 2004). As Michel Foucault explained, forms of social discipline which define the uses of space could encompass the general population (Foucault 1986, p. 148). This paper will consequently review not the usual works on Singapore's political history but key texts on social history, sociology, and historical and urban geography.

The focus here is on the urban kampongs of post-war Singapore but they are examined against an evolving continuum of state-society contestations spanning the pre-war, post-war and independence eras. The ideological distance between the British colonial regime and the PAP is not as great as portrayed in most scholarship; while the PAP was far more successful than the colonial regime in implementing its policies, both shared what James Scott termed a "high modernist" philosophy and a "self-confidence about scientific and technical progress" (Scott 1998, p. 4). State efforts at establishing social control in the colonial and independence periods are examined first, and this is followed by a discussion about how these attempts were often contested. In the final section, the paper charts the social and economic developments that transformed the urban kampong into a central site of the state-society conflict in the post-war years. It maintains that the overt forms of contestation employed by urban kampong dwellers were exceptional in Singapore's history.

Urban kampongs were settlements of cheap, densely-built wooden housing with attap or zinc roofs and constructed usually without planning approval. These houses were either owned by a single family or subdivided into smaller cubicles for a number of tenant families. The urban kampongs were mostly but not exclusively inhabited by the labouring class and proliferated at the periphery of the Central Area (the area around the Singapore River) after the war. In 1961, 200,000-250,000 people out of a population of 1.7 million lived in urban kampongs stretching from Pasir Panjang to the west, Siglap to the east and Toa Payoh to the north (HDB 1961, p.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Black Areas: Urban Kampongs and Power Relations in Post-War Singapore Historiography
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.